Michael Milken - Philanthropist, Financier, Medical Research Innovator, Public Health Advocate

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The UnRules

Mike and Igor Tulchinsky, the founder and CEO of WorldQuant LLC, a quantitative investment management firm, co-authored an April 2018 opinion article about meaningful lives for The Wall Street Journal in 2017. Following is Mike's Foreword to Mr. Tulchinsky's new book, "The UnRules.

"The UnRules"

Foreword by Michael Milken

Igor Tulchinsky and I had very different formative experiences. His childhood was constrained by the spiritual oppression of life in the Soviet Union, while mine was enriched by the opportunities available to middle-class kids in 1950s America. Yet we had much in common: caring parents, a love of reading and a fascination with math.

As one of today's leading quantitative investors, Igor understands better than most the numbers that underlie dynamic markets. "Markets can be seen as waves," he writes. "They resemble the regular oscillations of a musical instrument." That's a valid observation, although different from the way I came to learn about business and finance. As a college student, I was influenced by the writings of the late Nobel laureate Gary Becker, and by personal experiences that made me realize how many aspiring entrepreneurs especially minorities and women were being denied access to capital.

Igor's approach has relied on rigorous and sophisticated mathematical analysis to identify trading opportunities. This might seem very different from a reliance on theories of human capital the talent, training and experiences of people and the effects of societal trends on business success that I use. But in reality, we both seek to predict the most likely future based on what we observe. Understanding numbers and understanding people can both yield important insights that contribute to financial success. And we concur on several important points that are discussed in this book:

  • All markets contain risk, and without risk there are no gains. Careful research can discover the price of risk more accurately.

  • Markets also contain psychological traps, such as confusing correlation with causation. If most people are ensnared by these traps, an objective investor who follows the research like the proverbial one-eyed man in the land of the blind has an advantage.

  • The best investors seek and distill advice from widely diverse sources.

  • The study of markets and the study of biology have much in common. Each is a data-driven information science; each uses predictive algorithms in seeking a needle in a haystack of data. As Igor points out, the next great disease breakthrough might be discovered using the same mathematical techniques he uses to analyze financial data.

  • Talent is distributed around the world. Genius lives everywhere.

Igor and I both also believe in history's important lessons. A 2010 book about financial markets said that "real estate prices collapsed, credit dried up and house building stopped." That sounds like a description of 2008. But it actually refers to 1792, during the administration of George Washington. More recently, stock markets dropped sharply, banks curtailed lending and unemployment rose to double digits. Again, that wasn't 2008; it was 1974. Live long enough and you begin to appreciate what remains constant through cycles of history. Yet also note that history isn't a sine wave that repeats patterns exactly; it's more like a helix similar events return in a different orbit. This is why research is crucial.

Investors who conduct careful research are usually better insulated against inevitable market downturns. They understand that the value of debt securities underpins all capital markets, that leverage is a dangerous tool in volatile markets, that ratings are not always a reliable measure of credit quality, that interest rates are not predictable and that government actions often distort markets.

Although these basic investing principles change little over time, the tools of finance have changed dramatically. When I studied quantitative economics at Berkeley in the 1960s, computers were expensive, relatively inaccessible, room-sized machines with little power to model investment scenarios. By 1976 processing was speedier, but the storage cost for the IBM System/370 that my business installed was still $1 million per megabyte. Today data processing is millions of times faster, available to nearly anyone on earth, with virtually infinite storage in the cloud at a cost that approaches zero.

This technology revolution has changed the world in many fields. Its impact on biomedical research and precision medicine, for example, has accelerated clinical science and saved untold numbers of lives. There is great opportunity for it to advance beyond its current state through partnerships such as the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction at Weill Cornell that Igor founded. In the area of finance and investing, Igor and his colleagues now can do what 1960s finance students could only dream of simulate reality by creating millions of algorithms (called alphas) that identify trading opportunities with remarkable speed and accuracy.

Although we see markets through different lenses, Igor and I are in complete agreement on one of the most important social issues of our time providing a path to a meaningful life for every worker no matter how much traditional work is disrupted by advancing technology. In 2017 we co-authored a Wall Street Journal opinion article about the challenges of automation and artificial intelligence. We concluded that digital innovation and robots are opening new possibilities for workers and that the future workplace can provide the opportunity for lives of purpose. We believe, in short, that technology leverages human capital and that wisely deployed technology creates more jobs than it destroys. The key, of course, is to provide abundant opportunities for training and retraining.

The workplace of the future can already be seen in the international operations of Igor's company, WorldQuant. Separately, the WorldQuant Foundation's WorldQuant University offers students a tuition-free online master's degree program in financial engineering. By providing opportunities for a diverse group of bright people who are willing to work hard toward a clear goal, Igor is expanding human capital and helping assure a more prosperous tomorrow. The UnRules is a valuable guide for getting there.